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The Informed Parent

Breakfast: The Meal of Champions

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Mar. 06, 2006

Once upon a time, several and more decades ago, "three squares a day" was considered a non-debatable part of life. Many moms didn't work outside the home. They cared for the children, cleaned, washed, ironed, prepared meals, and served in the Parent Teacher Association.

While times have changed, one thing remains clear. Children and adolescents who eat regular, wholesome meals tend to be healthier, appear to eat less junk food during the day, and may perform better on tests. Regular meals include breakfast!

Companies that produce packaged foods fund much of the research on nutrition. This can lead to a bias in the studies. It's hard to know what to believe as opposed to what is hype for a company's product. Roberta Anding, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says "...there are enough unbiased studies to reliably conclude that breakfast flat-out matters."

In a survey conducted by Nickelodeon with 6-to 14-year-old children, 50 percent said they eat breakfast regularly. That means that half our children go to school without having eaten a morning meal. Government statistics show that the number of children eating breakfast has steadily declined over the past 25 years.

What are parents to do? Mornings are busy at best. Some children aren't ready to eat as early as is necessary to get to school on time. Often parents themselves skip breakfast modeling poor eating habits for their kids.

The following suggestions may make it easier to provide a morning meal for the family without too many hassles for anyone.

  1. Have everyone get up 15 minutes earlier. This gives a window of time to eat.
  2. Set the table the night before.
  3. Have pre-poured glasses of milk or juice in the refrigerator or use single serving juice packets. Aim for 100 percent juice.
  4. If breakfast is to be cold cereal, pour the cereal the night before and set it on the table.
  5. Use quick oat packets that require only hot water for mixing.
  6. Keep hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator. They are a ready-to-serve meal.

Some children do not like breakfast foods. These suggestions may work for reluctant breakfast eaters.

  1. Serve soup. Mix it the night before so it only needs to be heated.
  2. Serve left over macaroni and cheese, tuna and noodles, pizza, or other supper foods. Fill bowls the night before so they can be quickly heated in the microwave.
  3. Toasted cheese, peanut butter, or veggie sandwiches are tasty. Prep the night before. The cheese sandwiches can be ready to pop into the oven or microwave.
  4. Melt cheese on tortillas.
  5. Spread a banana with peanut or other nut butter.
  6. Mix cheerios (or another low or non-sugared cereal), raisins or other dried fruit, and nuts. Put into individual baggies. Serve with milk or juice. To save morning time, make lots of breakfast baggies at once so you have them on hand.
  7. Serve yogurt with granola on top.
  8. Serve string cheese and sliced apples.
  9. Make smoothies by blending fruit, yogurt, and orange juice.
  10. Spread peanut or other nut butter on toast.
  11. Prepare popcorn and milk.

You are not stuck with the sugar and additive filled ready-made breakfast choices currently on the market. If kids are used to eating sweetened cereals and pastries, however, they may need to be slowly introduced to healthier choices. Begin by using some of the above suggestions or mix sugared cereals with a low sugar cereal like cheerios. Specialty stores carry non-sugared cereal, which is even a better choice. Add fresh fruit. Cinnamon toast on whole wheat bread is healthier than a doughnut or pop tart. Ask the kids what they want. Then be creative together about how to make it a little more nutritious.

Fixing healthy breakfasts presents a challenge. Early mornings are a push for the whole family. Nonetheless, considering the benefits, it's well worth the effort. Ease into a better breakfast routine setting a goal for when you'd like to have healthy breakfasts on most mornings. As Roberta Anding says, "I don't want people eating really sugared breakfast cereals in the morning. But there is a case for saying something's better than nothing. I think we just need to say, there are better bad choices. Having a sweetened breakfast cereal is a better bad choice." As you work toward healthy breakfasts, begin by making better bad choices. Then pat yourself on the back when you know you and your family are preparing and eating healthy choices.

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